More and more often, family courts are recognizing that parents aren’t the only ones who play significant roles in a child’s life. Even though most custody cases involve parental custody and visitation rights, it’s possible to involve grandparents in a custody petition if they are caretakers or important figures in the child’s upbringing.
Grandparents as Primary Caretakers
It’s fairly common for grandparents to assume the roles of primary caretakers. In these cases, the grandparents may petition for sole custody, partial custody, legal custody, or physical custody of a child. For many families, this is a smart decision if one or both parents cannot fulfill all of their parenting responsibilities on a regular basis. Because grandparents are often the closest living relatives besides parents, courts often approve of these petitions — as long as they align with the best interests of the children.
State and Federal Laws
The laws regarding grandparent rights can become murkier when they are seeking visitation rights rather than custodial rights. The purpose of granting visitation rights for grandparents is to ensure that they can continue to maintain contact with their grandchildren after the children’s parents separate. Many judges grant these rights to grandparents and to other relatives or family friends who have close relationships with the children, and the reasoning is that it’s in the best interests of the children. Visitation schedules might not be as regular for grandparents as they would be for parents; instead of weekly or monthly visits, for example, grandparents might be able to visit their grandchildren on certain days or holidays throughout the year.
Each state has its own laws pertaining to grandparent visitation rights and the U.S. Supreme Court has even ruled on this issue before. Every state currently allows third parties, such as grandparents, to petition the court for visitation rights. In fact, third parties may make this petition even if the parents are still married and living with their children. However, states vary when it comes to determining when and why visitation rights may be granted. In some districts, the wishes of the parents hold more power than anything else. In other districts, a judge may consider the parents’ wishes but ultimately make a decision based on the best interests of the children involved.
Negotiating Visitation Rights
Many child custody lawyers urge clients in these situations to seek a resolution without going to court. This is often possible through mediation, which is an informal procedure where both sides present their case and a third party mediator offers a possible solution. However, if the case is too complex or if visitation rights may eventually turn into a more permanent custodial agreement, it’s recommended that third parties consult with a child custody lawyer about petitioning the court.
When grandparents are granted visitation rights, the parents or guardians of the children must comply with this order. Grandparents who have been granted visitation rights but are confronted with uncooperative parents/guardians may wish to speak with a family attorney in Tampa, FL about taking additional legal action to ensure these rights are upheld.
Thanks to The McKinney Law Group for their insight into family law and grandparent visitation rights.